Notes on News: Lytro – The future of cameras?

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It seems like every other week ‘the future of cinema’ is here – whether it be 3D, Dolby Atmos, films shot in one take, Go Pro POV shots, or VOD services such as Netflix and Amazon. Mostly they relate to how the viewing experience is being changed for you, the viewer, rather than for the filmmaker; a gimmick that everyone can at least try once whether they find it enjoyable or not. So its hard to get excited about technological news such as the arrival of a new camera, lenses, or programs – things that go on behind the scenes that, to the average viewer, go completely unnoticed. However, the news of yesterday might prove to be an exception.

Yesterday (Monday 11th April), Lytro announced their Cinema camera.

Lytro are the only company in the world that make ‘light field’ cameras, a term as confusing as it is unknown. If you were to look up an explanation for what this means on the company website, you could flick through the brief 187 page P.H.D thesis written by the company’s founder, or you could be sane and look for the layman’s explanation. Lytro’s cameras give the user the chance to change the focus and aperture of an image after it’s been taken:

It’s not some cheap trick applied in post-production, it’s a complete control of the image. A standard camera reads the amount of light that hits each pixel, but it doesn’t know where the light came from before it entered the camera. Lytro’s design allows the sensor to know the origin of any light entering the camera. These cameras have been on the market for several years now but have flown pretty low on the radar, despite their somewhat amazing qualities. However, that might all be about to change with this latest announcement.

What this means for video is, potentially, the death of green screen. As the camera can tell how far away something is from another thing, it can recognize the foreground from the background. Want to make your two people talking in front of a sunset? You can just delete everything behind them. No more painstaking cutting out frame by frame, no more precariously lighting the green screen to be a completely even, just set up and shoot. Below is an example of this greenscreenless rotoscoping at work:

Now why is this exciting for you? Well if this technology starts to trickle down to the average filmmaker, it pushes a whole lot of expensive and extensive options into reach. You don’t have to worry about filming something out of focus (so less reshoots) and you don’t have to hire a focus puller anymore. There’s no more hours setting up green screens, no paying VFX artists to cut the people out from those green screens. If used in live TV broadcasts, you could change what’s in the foreground or background without having to be in the studio. Cinematographers might have their jobs in trouble too, as with so much control, many filmmakers might save precious filming time to simply fix everything in post-production. It streamlines the entire process. More films for cheaper, and easier, which hopefully means a lot more people will be able to make the films they’ve wanted to all along.

There’s also fascinating aspects in regards to aperture, dynamic range, shutter speed, and frame rate, but I can sense I might be losing you. For a full example of what this technology is capable of, watch the trailer below, or check out their website for more details. The cinema camera hasn’t been released to the public yet so it’s still make or break, but hopefully this is a great hint at what’s to come in the future.

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I like sitting by the fire, long walks on the beach, and sunsets. I am also fond of Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain, but I would like to add that I am not into yoga.

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